The T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge is now a reality. The Ashland sign that used to hang from the old disconnected span has been removed and at the December JROC meeting we talked about whether it should be replaced. It was agreed between JROC and the Park Staf that a new sign commemorating the Falls of the James as a State Scenic River will replace the Ashland sign. Here is a history of how the Falls got that designation and saved it for future generations.
A Brief History on the Occasion of its 30th Anniversary
“But for the river to survive in all its beauty and as the natural gift we must leave to future generations, the public is obligated to take care in how the river is used” (David D. Ryan, The Falls of the James. 1975).
On May 20, 2002, the Falls of the James Scenic River Advisory Board celebrates 30 years of vigilance “in how the river is used.” On this occasion, it is appropriate to look back at some of the history of the Falls Board with a special note about its origins.
Precursor: Environmental Activism Awakens
On Monday, October 24, 1966, the headline in The Richmond News Leader read “Expressway Opens Recreation Vista.” The portion of the plan that inspired the “Recreation Vista” headline, “Riverside Parkway,” turned out to be a road never built. It aroused significant opposition and launched an organized environmental awareness that led to the designation of the Falls of the James as a State Scenic River and shaped a significant portion of the river dialogue in the years to follow.
As part of the Richmond Metropolitan Authority’s (RMA) plan for an expressway system, the Riverside Parkway would have created a four-lane, limited access highway along the south bank of the James River. The parkway would have extended into the river for a considerable distance, requiring the removal of part of Williams Island to replace the channel filled by the parkway. It would have had an elevation of up to 11 feet above the current riverbank.
Very little opposition to the Riverside Parkway was expressed during the period immediately following the unveiling of the expressway plans. An early foreshadowing of events to come, however, was a Girl Scout hike in 1967 along a portion of the proposed route of the Riverside Parkway. The organizer, Louise Burke, invited a reporter to join the “farewell to the river hike” and the event and the concern it symbolized were reported in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
A second note of concern came in the form of a newspaper article in the summer of 1970 by Ken Ringle, an Associated Press reporter assigned to Richmond. It read, in part:
The city of Richmond, in one of those moves that bring environmentalists close to tears, is spending money simultaneously to both celebrate and molest the city’s longtime ecological poor relation, the James River.
At one end of Richmond preparations are under way for the opening next month of the $720,000 first phase of the $6 million James River Park, an ambitious and incredibly beautiful design threading 2,000 acres of tree-arched, wildflowered riverbank with trails and rustic bridges and giving the Richmond public its first legal access to the James within memory.
At the other end of the city, in the newly annexed portion to the west, the city-backed Richmond Metropolitan Authority is preparing to run a four-lane expressway for 2 ½ miles down the south bank, ripping up trees, paving over riverbank and shadowing the boulder-stream rapids with nylon-stilted forays in the riverbed itself.
. . . . the James has been largely ignored for most of this century by Richmond, and only recently in a quest of a civic identity beyond its Confederate monuments, has the city focused attention on the natural asset which was there all along (The Free-Lance Star, Fredericksburg, June 23, 1970 ).
These early stirrings of opposition were followed by conversations among friends and acquaintances that took organizational form at a meeting of a small group of citizens in a home overlooking the river. Attending that meeting called by Louise Burke were Ann and Jack Andrews, Doris and John Hurst, Laila and John Pearsall, and R.B. Young. The Richmond Scenic James Council was formed and Louise Burke was selected as chair. Other individuals who made significant contributions at that time include Cameron Budd, Bill Emory, Rives Fleming, Mary Frances Flowers, Chuck Hotchkiss, Logan Johns, Jack Pearsall, and Bill Trout.
During the period of organization building that followed the meeting, other individuals and organizations were contacted and invited to join the effort. These included the Ornithological Society (later Audubon), League of Women Voters, Junior League, and more than 35 garden clubs in the Richmond area. The Garden Club of Virginia became a very influential ally in opposing the expressway. This growing coalition of groups, led by the Richmond Scenic James Council, successfully demonstrated the negative impact the Riverside Parkway would have on the environmental, scenic, historic, and recreational assets of the river. Further, a traffic consultant, Alan Cripe, estimated a $20 million loss for this segment of the expressway system. Plans for the expressway were abandoned in 1972.
Scenic Designation: The Historic Falls of the James Act
After turning aside the plans for the expressway, the Richmond Scenic James Council, under the leadership of its second chair, Dr. R.B. Young, decided to take a proactive stance toward the future protection of the river. Among other activities, the group set out to achieve designation as a State Scenic River under legislation passed in 1970 by the Virginia General Assembly. The City initially objected to Scenic River designation because of some of the restrictions it would impose. To solve this problem, the Richmond Scenic James Council, with the help of City Manager Alan Kiepper, George Freeman, and others, drafted proposed legislation specific to the James River in Richmond. The Historic Falls of the James Act was adopted by the Virginia General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Linwood Holton in 1972.
The Historic Falls of the James Act called for the creation of a nine member Advisory Committee with five members appointed by the Richmond City Council and four members appointed by the Governor. The original Advisory Committee members included: Pete Anderson, John Bishop, George Freeman, Eleanor Hankins, Bob Hicks, John Pearsall, Tony Perrins, David Roszell, and R.B. Young. Louise Burke was appointed to the City Planning Commission and became its chairperson. Dr. R.B. Young was elected the first chair of the Advisory Committee, a position he held for 30 years.
In 1984, the Historic Falls of the James Act was changed by the General Assembly to provide full State Scenic River Designation to the Falls of the James. The Scenic River Advisory Committee became the Falls of the James Scenic River Advisory Board with continuation of the same membership and method of appointment.
In both phases of the Board’s history, the City of Richmond has been the administrative agency for this segment of the Virginia Scenic Rivers System. This represents greater local involvement than that of most of Virginia’s Scenic Rivers which are administered solely by the State Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). Richard Gibbons, FASLA, Environmental Program Manager in DCR has provided continuing support to the Advisory Board.
A Sketch of Accomplishments
The principle responsibility of the Advisory Board is to evaluate and advise appropriate governing bodies regarding plans that may affect the James River in the City of Richmond.
The Advisory Board may consider and comment on any federal, state or local governmental plans to approve, license, fund or construct facilities which would alter the natural, scenic or historic assets which qualified the river for scenic designation (Scenic Rivers Act).
Over the last 30 years the Advisory Board has actively participated in deliberations regarding any number of issues and commented on virtually all plans and projects affecting the Falls of the James and its immediate environs. The Board focuses its attention primarily on the environmental, scenic, historic, and recreational assets of the river and its natural environs with full and active awareness of the economic benefits that come from maintaining these features of the river, both now and in the future. The Board’s work and accomplishments over the years include:
James River Park
The Advisory Board has supported additions and appropriate development of the James River Park System over the years, including
- The enhancement of the first section of the park (21st to 42 Streets) and acquisition of Pony Pasture River Park, Huguenot Woods Park, North Park, Great Ship Lock Park, Three Mile Locks Park, and Belle Isle.
- The Board worked extensively with Stanley and Carlton Abbott, nationally known landscape architects, in planning James River Park facilities. Additionally, the Board has supported
- The creation of the James River Park Manager/Naturalist position
- Environmental education programs, materials, and clean-up projects in the James River Parks
- The Falls Board successfully proposed re-locating the new Lee Bridge to a more environmentally sound location and
- Proposed a pedestrian, bicycle, and handicapped accessible bridge from the north shore to Belle Isle suspended underneath the new Lee Bridge, later agreed to by the City and promoted by the Richmond Riverfront Corporation under the leadership of its chairman Brenton Halsey.
- Worked with City, State, and Federal agencies to promote the breaching of the Manchester, Brown’s Island, and Williams Dams to allow for the passage of anadromous fish during the spawning and re-entry process
- Assisted the James River Association which, along with the City, State, and Federal governments as well as Richmond area corporations and foundations, took the leadership role in promoting the fish passage at Bosher’s Dam
- Initiated some of the early clean-up campaigns along the river
Combined Sewer Overflow
- Provided ongoing review and advice to the city and its engineering consultants, primarily Greeley & Hansen, in the development of the ever expanding Combined Sewer Overflow abatement project
- Provided recommendations regarding the design and placement of major water and sewer lines
- Worked with Bill Trout and the Virginia Canal & Navigation Society to protect and preserve important components of the Kanawha Canal, the Haxall Canal, and the Manchester Canal.
- Focused attention on the Three Mile Lock System and its associated historic Pump House.
- Participated in the Downtown Riverfront Development Project, including the restoration of the Kanawha and Haxall Canals
- Instigated the innovative coordination of the canal system restoration with the location of CSO interceptors underneath and along the same right-of-way for both environmental and economic advantages
- Supported the Historic Richmond Foundation in successfully persuading the Corps of Engineers to penetrate the floodwall with a canal gate, without which the canal would be obstructed
- Worked actively to preserve certain historic sites along the river – Kanawha Canal sites, Great Ship Lock, Downtown Locks on Reynolds property, Three Mile – and Five Mile Locks, Confederate Boat Yard, Slave Dock and Trail, Foushee Mill, and Ballendines Foundry
- Supported the efforts to preserve the historic Pump House at Three Mile Locks Park
- Worked with representatives of Dominion Power to preserve as much as possible of the scenic river viewshed in the planning of their new buildings on the river bank.
- Participated in the Metro Richmond Greenways Plan sponsored by the National Park Service
In 1995, the Falls of the James Scenic River Advisory Board received national attention with the receipt of the award for Lifetime Achievement in Urban Rivers Restoration given by American Rivers.
Past members who have served on the Falls of the James Scenic River Advisory Board
- Pete Anderson
- John Bishop
- Louis Burke
- Gilbert Carter
- Sue Cecil
- George Freeman
- Louis Hannen
- Eleanor Hankins
- Bob Hicks
- John Pearsall
- Tony Perrins
- Charles Peters
- James Reed
- David Roszell
- Howe Todd
- Roland Walker
- Walter Witschey
- R.B. Young
- John Zeugner
R.B Young, M.D., retired from the Advisory Board on May 15, 2002 after serving for 30 years as its chair.
Notation: General Assembly legislation in 2003 changed the method of appointment from the Governor of Virginia to the Director of Conservation and Recreation, and the Advisory Board to Advisory Committee.
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